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A Cape Town short story

Manoj Gopinath

The Emirates flight EK 770 took off from Dubai and headed south on a course overflying Salalah, the
beautiful coconut grove filled and mountainous city, crossing the Suez canal south of the ancient great
pyramids of Giza, the land of the Pharos and the lovely enigmatic Cleopatra, floating alongside the
enchanting snake river Nile, flickering glimpses of the once dark continent beneath the fleeting clouds,
flying diagonally across the whole of the African continent, crossing some 6 countries on the way. Eight
hours 55 minutes flying time announced the pilot, and 6 hours into the flight one could see the Victoria
Falls on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. I was all excited and remembered David
Livingstone, the first European to see the spectacular falls and write No one can imagine the beauty of
the view. It has never been seen before by European eyes, scenes so lovely must have gazed upon by
angels in their flight. I was all set to get a better view than Livingstone from thirty thousand feet and a
view as seen by the angels he described, at a time before the airplane was invented, before the Wright
brothers were even born. Unfortunately I dozed off due to a sleepless previous night travel to Dubai
and was awaked by the air hostess for lunch and looking at the flight path we were inside South Africa, I
could see Johannesburg on the map and guessed the my glimpse of Victoria falls will have to wait till
the next trip. I had a window seat and looking down I was surprised to see clear view of the ground
terrain from 30 thousand feet, not the usual carpet layer of white clouds below. Rolling light and dark
green rectangular patches with brown streaks across and occasional silver threads of curvy winding
ornaments adorning the picturesque landscape, sunlight reflecting off the waterways.

With the announcement Cabin crew prepare for landing, Cape Town airport emerged from the edges
of the sea and one could see the curved outline of the bay, the white beach sands like a coral necklace
adorning the land at the edges of the blue waters and the big Boeing 777-300 bird glided in smoothly
and settled down in the midst of rolling meadows and hills all round in the distance as far as one could
see, in a ring like sentinels, the white clouds making the hills look like grand wise old men with long
white beards standing guard over ancient mystique secrets of the African continent.

For some reason Cape Town airport resemble Hong Kong airport, possibly the hills all around and the
misty feeling it evokes, with the exception in Hong Kong as the airplane moves down the runway the
wing tip of a big aircraft will be extending out of the runway almost to the edges of waters of the bay .

A quiet airport, silence all around, making you feel at peace, almost a homely feeling, not the huge
mindless rush and bustle of busy airports.

At 4:30 pm in the afternoon, with the reddish orange glow of sunlight casting light and shadows like
restless spirits darting outside the glass windows and a warm yellowish glow fleeting across the grass
meadows and in the far distance the hills floating like a mirage, the white clouds caressing the hill
tops on their heavenly voyage and came the feeling, if only you stretch your hand out you could hold
time, and hold it still in the palms of your hands for an eternity and you feel one with your maker, for a
moment the world stood still, the clocks stopped ticking, and you are transported to another world.

Things move at an infinitely slow leisurely holiday pace in Cape Town airport, it was an hour before I
could walk past passport control, change some currency and emerge out of Arrival terminal looking for a
taxi. In most airports I had experienced currency conversion is over in 2 minutes flat, here there were
two formidable ladies working at their own speed as if in perpetual slow motion oscillating back and
forth like the pendulum of a grandfather clock between their desk and one Xerox machine and much
processes, they took 10 minutes to service each customer and it was half an hour before I could get past
3 waiting tourists. When I came out, the whole arrival waiting area was deserted, I had seen a crowd of
placard holding people when walking out of the plane towards passport control, guess my hotel taxi
was one among them and after waiting one hour for me to come he must have gone.

Your troubles start the moment you step out of airport arrival zone into a foreign land with foreign
language, unless you are not well prepared. In 2012 when I went 2 escalator levels down from the new
terminal T3 (of 2008 Beijing Olympics) of Beijing airport to the taxi area I was greeted by young, English
speaking Chinese ladies appointed by the airport to communicate between travelers and the only
Chinese speaking Taxi drivers. I said Great Wall Sheraton Hotel, the lady asked what. I repeated to
be met by more what. After some 3 attempts, I remembered advice of my earlier Indian colleague
who had travelled to china and showed in my blackberry phone the Hotel name in both English and
Chinese which was sent by my china colleague. Realization dawned like for Buddha under the Bodhi
tree, she beamed in ecstasy and read out what appeared to me purely Chinese for me from the musical
sing song tone and the accent but apparently she was reading Great Wall Sheraton Hotel as the taxi
driver started nodding his head vigorously and moved purposefully forward to take my luggage. Again
for Istanbul travel 2 months back in the last minute hurry of preparation of work, travel documents I
did a quick search of Hotel Dademan took printout and showed the same to Taxi driver who faithfully
took me to the correct address but wrong Hotel as it seems there are two Hotels of name Dademan in
Istanbul Dademan Istanbul and Dademan Bostanci and to top it all, refused to take me to the right
one as it was on the Asia side of Istanbul and we were on the Europe side of Istanbul separated by the
bridge across the Bosphorus straits and I was left stranded in the middle between Europe and Asia. Hard
lessons learnt. Let us, oh let me not digress further and come back to the lovely Cape Town.

Scene outside, not much different from India, one taxi driver at arrival zone asked 350 rand (about 1750
rs) the actual rate I was told by Faisal my colleague from Dubai/ Karachi to be only 250 rand.

Also I was warned the crime rate is high in Cape Town and I was a bit apprehensive about taking a
strange taxi.

In sailed one diminutive figure with an aura of assurance around him and a disarming smile and told me
he could take me to my hotel for the reasonable rate of 250 rand. He seemed to know all the staff and
exchanged pleasantries and carried on a friendly banter with the girls at the help desk calling them by
their names, so I assumed he was well known in the airport and a reasonable risk to take the taxi with
him.

The taxi driver introduced himself as Tino and he started conversation about the tourist places around
Cape Town, Table Mountain and beaches by the bay. Few minutes into the drive, out of nowhere came
the bouncer Do you like ladies?. I was floored, the last instance I remember an Indian Punjabi taxi
driver in Vancouver asking me Do you want to take revenge for the 1962 China war but that is
another story with similar end connotations, I quickly recovered and said No. I wanted to continue I
dont even look at ladies in a foreign country, now please drop me as quickly as possible in my Hotel.
He seemed disappointed and looking by his reaction probably it was an unusual response from a single
tourist to arrive in Cape Town. I added further I had come for work and I had a very busy schedule for
this short trip.

He was pleasant enough and wrote his cell number on the bill and offered to take me around for
sightseeing should I have the time.

The hotel was nicely located halfway between the Devils Peak hills on top and steep road sloping down
to the bay with its blue waters and beaches.

The first two days were rainy and cloudy and bit of a disappointment not able to go around much and
restrained to watching the rain drops falling on the glass windows overlooking the bay in the distance
and puddle of water on the tiles around the pool overlooking the dining hall.

The locals seemed happy and everyone said Cape Town needed all the rains. It was winter in the
southern hemisphere and it was a time for the rains to come in from the seas, the Indian Ocean and the
Atlantic Ocean and seems rains were less this year.

The 3rd day the sun was up bright and shining and clear skies and sound of birds chirping in the
coniferous trees just overlooking my window to the bay.

That was the day we went inside Cape Town airport on the apron side where the planes park for our
work. Clear opens spaces and it was a long wait to get the entry permits and but the time well spent
watching the brightly colored yellow and green planes Mango and Kulula the domestic South African
airline planes floating in very slowly as if in slow motion from the clear skies and with the backdrop of
the circle of mountains and grass meadows as far as eye can see, only broken by the thin black strip of
the runway. The far mountains had green patches of trees and shrubs in reddish brown soil backdrop
and cascading gradual slopes and looked inviting for a trek. It seemed fairly busy airport in the afternoon
as there seemed a steady stream of aircraft as soon as one landed you could see the next in the far sky,
but not so busy as Dallas or Amsterdam where I had seen 5 to 6 planes lined up on the evening skies in a
step manner at different heights and distances in line with the runway and the stream never seemed to
stop.

Evening we went down to the harbor for dinner by the side of bay with few boats and the pungent smell
of the ocean breeze hitting you as your walk down close to the waters. Nice ambience open, breezy low
lit lights and plenty of exotic sea food.

Meat forms the central theme of South African food accompanied by starch in form of maize, potato or
rice.

Also there is a not so insignificant an Indian influence on food choices, due to the sizeable Indian
population in Durban and I was fortunate to have tasty biriyani and fish curry prepared by the mother of
one of our colleagues from Cape Town.

Cape Town is a major wine producing area and there are tours like Stellenbosch wine tour where you
can go on a scenic route through some 150 grape orchards and wine farms.

Discussions started with politics, the general feeling of discontent, the unimaginable wealth of Zumo
the President and his son figured prominently in the talks, and as the night lengthened and people
started feeling more comfortable with each other, a few drinks helping during the course of the evening,
the talks wandered on to the more sensitive topics of the underlying frictions in the past and how things
have changed with abolition of apartheid, one friend said very candidly and with deep suppressed
emotion of ages we the colored people were the less privileged in the past and people like Rw (one
of our friends of pure Dutch ancestry sitting opposite directly facing him) were the more privileged,
now things have changed we are all equal and we have to work together and build this great nation.

It was from the Town Hall of Cape Town that on Feb 11, 1990 Nelson Mandela gave his first speech
hours after release from prison Amandla! Amandla! i-Afrika, mayibuye! [Power! Power! Africa it is
ours!]My friends, comrades and fellow South Africans, I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy
and freedom for all. I stand here before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant of you, the
people."

Day 4, me and my colleague Faisal emerge out of Cape town airport after a tiring days work and look for
a taxi, like Alladin with the magic lantern and we make a wish to the Genie, and who appear in front of
us, none other than Tino, the familiar Taxi driver. By now Tino had attained much fame in our meeting
rooms as I had appraised my colleagues of my Do you like ladies encounter as soon as I landed in
Cape Town and all had good laugh and some teased why the heck did you say No and that it was not
an unusual sequence of events to happen in Cape Town. And so one is advised to be alert or anticipate
as the case may be.

We got into the taxi and Faisal got into lengthy discussion with Tino on the ethnicity of various tribes in
Cape Town and various other matters which is best not described here and left to the imagination of
the reader.

Tino said he was of the Xhosa tribe which was one of major tribe in Cape Town but somewhere down
the line there was mixture of German and Dutch blood due to which his skin was of a lighter colour. The
major tribes being Zulu, Xhosa, three ethnic groups related to neighboring countries, Tswana
(Botswana), the Swazi (Swaziland) and the Southern Sotho (Lesotho). South Africas white population is
about 9%, Afrikaans-speaking descendants of the original Dutch East India Company, and English
speaking descendants of Englishmen who came since 1820.

Tino said it was not easy to make money in Cape Town but not very difficult either. We are the wiser
now on the meaning of his cryptic statement.

Now that we were all on good terms and we persuaded Tino take us on to Table Mountain on our way
back to Hotel. He somewhat reluctantly agreed, not seeing much prospects from us than a long taxi
drive perhaps other customers, the single tourists he will have better value for money for his time.

The name given by the Antonio de Saldanha the Portuguese navigator who climbed the mountain in
1503 and named it Taboa do Cabo (Table of the Cape, in his native Portuguese).

It owes its unique shape due the fact it was once flat bottom of a valley which was raised as part of Cape
Fold Mountains and adjacent sides eroded off over millions of years to leave the flat mountain top.

The mountain top is often covered with clouds the so called table cloth which as per legend due to a
smoking contest between the Devil and a local pirate by name Van Hunks.
It is flanked by Devils peak on one side and Lions Head peak on other side and is home to many
endangered species of flora and fauna. Wild life one can find here include porcupines, mongooses,
snakes, lizards, tortoises. And a special type of orchid called Pride of Table Mountain.

We had a long winding ride up the hill side mostly with the most picturesque colonial style houses
perched on the hill slopes occasionally interspaced with grass meadows and a sprinkling of stately
elegant trees.

We drove as far uphill as cars go and got down and surveyed the lovely bay far below and small fairy tale
like houses in the valley, the blue ocean sparkling in the afternoon with the bright sunlight reflecting off
it. Above us there was a short cable car ride leading to the top of the mountain.

Newlands cricket ground in Cape Town is considered one of the most beautiful cricket grounds in the
world with a view of Table Mountain and Devils Peak in the background. Being an ardent cricket player
myself one cannot talk of South African cricket without remembering my all-time favorites the great
Barry Richards one of the finest batsman of the last century and in more recent times Alan Donald.
Unfortunately due to South Africas exclusion those days from Test cricket due to apartheid policies,
Barry Richards played only 4 test matches against Australia scoring 508 runs at an average of 72 which
led to defeat of a strong Australian team 4-0 in the 1970 series. Also Barry Richards is legendary for his
innings of 325 runs scored in a single day in 1971 playing for South Australia against Western Australia in
the Sheffield Shield against a bowling attack of Dennis Lillie, Graham McKenzie the finest fast bowling
attack in the world at that time. Century by lunch, double century by tea and triple century before end
of day, I remember reading in a cricket book I had borrowed from British Library that just after the
innings he showed his forearm was swelled blocking the 155 km/hr cricket balls hurled at him by Dennis
Lille and co. It will be a dream come true to watch an international cricket match in Newlands cricket
ground and a fantasy if one could travel back in time and watch Barry Richards caress the cricket ball
effortlessly all over Newlands cricket ground.

Cape of Good hope is not the southern most tip of Africa as popular belief, but it is Cape Agulas, 170
kms south east of Cape town which forms the dividing line between Atlantic and Indian ocean and the
huge waves here as high as 100 feet have sunk more than 150 ships in the last few centuries. I was told
there is a scenic drive from Cape town to Cape Agulas with hills on one side and the blue ocean on the
other side and great eateries on the way.

Many more sights and places in Cape Town to visit which will have to wait till my next trip.
Photo taken by my friend Faisal near Table mountain top.
Cable ride to Table Mountain
Sunset behind the mountains surrounding Cape Town.

The story is dedicated to Muhammad Faisal my friend and colleague from Karachi who quit Honeywell

By Manoj Gopinath (manoj_gopinath_2000@yahoo.com)

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